Shell’s false claims on Niger Delta oil spills exposed
In November 2013, Amnesty International released a report called 'Bad Information: Oil Spill Investigations in the Niger Delta'.
The investigation between Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) alleged that Shell had manipulated oil spill investigations in Nigeria. The report uncovered specific cases in which Shell had wrongly reported the cause of oil spills, the volume of oil spilt, or the extent and adequacy of clean up measures.
New analysis from an independent expert found that so-called official investigation reports into the cause of oil spills in the Niger Delta were often “very subjective, misleading and downright false.”
The report highlighted systemic weaknesses in the way the cause of a spill and the volume were determined – with some significant errors in the volumes that were recorded as spilt. It said that the consequences for the affected communities were devastating and resulted in them receiving little or no compensation.
Oil companies were not required to back up their claims with full and independent evidence. The evidence that did exist remained firmly under their control.
At Amnesty International's and CEHRD’s request, the independent US oil pipeline specialist Accufacts assessed a number of oil spill investigation reports, as well as responses from oil companies operating in the Niger Delta and Nigeria’s national oil spill agency.
The expert found cases where the stated cause of an oil spill appears to be wrongly attributed to sabotage. In many other cases sabotage was listed as the cause when there was little or no data recorded to back up the claim.
Overall, Accufacts concluded that many official investigation reports were “technically incomplete”, and others “appear to be serving another agenda, more driven by politics…than pipeline forensic science”.
Nigeria’s under-resourced regulatory agencies have little oversight or control of the process and were dependent on the oil companies to carry out investigations. In one incident, a regulator sent a student on work experience as their sole representative to an oil spill investigation.
The report found that Shell had made some improvements to its investigation reports since 2011, including the addition of images of oil spills on its corporate website. But serious flaws remained, including weaknesses in the underlying evidence used to attribute spills to sabotage.
Information listed in oil spill investigation reports determined whether oil companies were liable to pay compensation to affected communities. Despite serious flaws, the reports were cited as evidence in litigation.
Amnesty International and CEHRD found evidence of Shell having changed the officially recorded cause of a spill after an investigation had taken place. In one incident, secretly filmed video of an investigation showed how officials from Shell and the regulator tried to subvert the evidence by persuading community members on the investigation team not to attribute the cause to equipment failure.
Video footage of a leak from an oil spill in Bodo from 2008 reviewed by Accufacts showed that Shell seriously under-recorded the volume spilt. Shell’s official investigation report claims only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilt in total but other evidence points to the amount being at least 60 times higher.
Hundreds of oil spills occur in Nigeria every year, which caused significant harm to the environment, destroyed livelihoods and placed human health at serious risk. These spills were caused by numerous factors including corrosion, poor maintenance of oil infrastructure and equipment failure as well as sabotage and theft of oil.
Shell had repeatedly claimed to its investors, customers and the media that sabotage and theft were behind the vast majority of spills. But, according to Amnesty and CEHRD, the facts do not support this assertion.
“Instead of being in the dock when there is an oil spill in Nigeria, Shell gets to act as judge and jury. It is the communities that suffer a life sentence, with their land and livelihoods destroyed by the pollution,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International. “Shell and other oil companies refer to sabotage and theft in the Niger Delta as if it absolved them of responsibility. The Niger Delta is the only place in the world where companies brazenly admit to massive oil pollution from their operations and claim it is not their fault. Almost anywhere else they would be challenged on why they have done so little to prevent it.”
The report argued that companies should be legally liable for failure to take effective action to protect their systems, including from sabotage.
Amnesty International and CEHRD was calling on the oil companies to publish all investigation reports, associated photos and videos. They must provide verifiable evidence of the cause and damage to the impacted area.
The Nigerian government must also substantially strengthen the capacity of the regulators including by providing an increased budget for its operations.
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